By Carol A. Wilcox
PREFERRED Therapy Providers, Inc.
If you were contacted by the fire department in the middle of the night to inform you that the building your clinic is in burned to the ground and arson was suspected, would you know what to do? How would you handle the local media, inquiries from your patients, your interaction with authorities, and manage your staff’s needs?
What if the media reported that a box of patient files with confidential information was found in a dumpster and those files allegedly belonged to your clinic? Would you know how to manage the public fallout from a potential patient privacy violation?
Although no one wants to think that a crisis will ever happen to their business, they occur every day, with little to no warning, and quite often make it into the nightly news and social media. And it’s not just large healthcare organizations that are affected. Small practices are just as vulnerable to a crisis. You do not want to wait until a crisis happens to figure out how to manage it.
A CRISIS RESULTS FROM AN EVENT
A crisis occurs because of an event that happened. Here are just a few types of events that could cause a crisis in your business:
- Confidential patient information privacy violations
- Allegations of federal or state law violations such as civil rights or fraud and abuse
- Allegations of malpractice or misconduct
- Misappropriation of funds – employee embezzling
- Audits or investigations
- Damage to the facility such as a fire or explosion
- Hostage situation/active shooter
- Workplace violence
- Weather-related issues such as flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires or tornadoes
- Ransomware attacks on clinic computers
News travels fast, and bad news travels even faster, so it’s important to respond to a crisis event quickly. If you don’t have a crisis roadmap in place before an event occurs, you may risk losing your business, your patient’s confidence, and your personal and professional reputation.
WHAT A CRISIS COMMUNICATION PLAN DOES
A crisis communication plan is a set of guidelines that a business uses for an emergency or unexpected event, according to this resource. These plans help the business to quickly respond to the public and other stakeholders. A crisis communication plan outlines the steps required to ensure the correct information is provided to employees, patients, media, and others in a quick and consistent manner.
HOW TO CREATE A CRISIS COMMUNICATION PLAN
Whether your practice is large or small, here are the basic steps needed to create a crisis communication plan for your business:
Assemble your team.
Your crisis communication team should include a key individual with the ability to lead operations and take charge of the crisis. This person should be level-headed and able to take in all aspects of the situation. You will also need to appoint a spokesperson. This person will be the “face” of your practice during a crisis and should be comfortable, poised, and skilled in public speaking and if required, should be able to answer questions from the media and stakeholders.
You will also need at least one “gatekeeper” experienced in answering and fielding outside calls, texts or emails. This person should be able to respond quickly and appropriately to requests for information. Another key individual to your team will be someone who can monitor and quickly respond to social media comments.
Depending upon the crisis, other potential team members could include: Finance and administration, human resources, compliance, marketing and communications, legal and information technology.
Create possible crisis scenarios.
Although you can never predict every possible crisis scenario, your team should create several potential scenarios in which a crisis may occur. For example, a fire in your facility would be handled differently than if there was an accusation of fraud in your facility.
Begin by conducting an honest clinic self-assessment to identify areas of your business that could be subject to a potential crisis.
For each scenario, discuss how you and your team would handle the situation. Document what steps would be needed to manage each crisis and create talking points for each scenario. Incorporate these into your overall crisis communication plan.
Establish crisis team roles and responsibilities.
Your plan should include specific written roles and responsibilities for each crisis team member.
Establish a plan for communication.
Crisis events don’t only occur during business hours, so it’s prudent to establish a plan for how you will reach your crisis team and other staff members within minutes of a crisis.
The best way to establish a communication plan is to create a chain of command with your key crisis team members at the top. Determine who should be contacted and in what order. Be sure that all team members know how to contact one another. Establish which communication method will be used. For some practices, a text or email may be more effective than a phone call. Make sure that all team members know exactly how they will be contacted and by whom.
Determine where your command center will be located. This may be your facility, a hotel, a parking lot, a school, or other building. Create a contingency plan for meeting with your team should you be unable to use your command center location. Establish a plan for your team to communicate remotely if necessary.
Establish a list of external crisis support if needed.
Depending on the situation, you may need to add members to your core crisis team. These might include attorneys, consultants, IT specialists, public relations professionals, media trainers, or risk, security and compliance professionals.
Be sure to have up-to-date external crisis support contact information and incorporate them into your overall crisis communication plan.
Determine content of the key messaging
Delivering key messages to stakeholders quickly is essential during the first hour of a crisis. Develop editable key talking points and messages that you can use during a crisis event. This resource provides a few examples.
Determine which communication channels to use to deliver messages. This could be a combination of web, email, texts, press conferences, social media, radio or television.
Hold regular crisis team meetings
Update your crisis communication plan as needed. Rehearse the different scenarios in which a crisis could occur. Add or delete team members as necessary. Keep any fact sheets or talking points updated as needed.
These are the basic components of a crisis communication plan. You will have to determine if you require a more expansive plan for your practice. There are many resources online that can provide more information as well as crisis communications companies that can help you create a plan.
Remember, developing no plan is far worse than taking the time to follow these basic steps as outlined in this article. By proactively developing a crisis communication plan before a crisis event hits your business, you will be better prepared to quickly put a plan into action, mitigate risk and circumvent damage to your practice and your reputation.
About the Author:
Carol A. Wilcox is the staff writer and head of marketing communications at PREFERRED Therapy Providers Inc. You can reach Carol here.
This article is brought to you by PREFERRED Therapy Providers Inc. PREFERRED believes there is power in numbers. Their vision is to simplify clinic growth for Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy practices through the power of networks.
By leveraging their network, PREFERRED provides services such as single-source contract procurement, claims resolution assistance, credentialing services, and streamlined supply chain management. PREFERRED develops partnerships with like-minded organizations who share their vision of simplifying clinic growth and creating opportunity for therapy outpatient practices.